Home > Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(4)

Scandalous 1 (Scandalous #1)(4)
Author: H.M. Ward

Humiliated, I stood, “Thank you for your consideration. I’ll show myself out.” As I swung my purse over my shoulder, I walked to the door. I was so screwed. My mind warped into hyper-drive as panic shot through my brain yipping like a freaked-out Chihuahua. I was going to die, eaten by the walrus. The noise of a chair moving behind me caught my ear, but I figured it was just Jack leaving. I didn’t expect him to lunge in front of me, stopping me in my tracks.

“Where are you going?” he laughed, throwing his body in front of me so I couldn’t walk through the door. His silky dark hair fell in his eyes. The smile melted that cold expression he was giving me before. My heart lurched at the sight of it. It took me a minute to realize he wanted me to stop. I’m kind of thick sometimes. Hands up in the universal sign for stop went right over my head, so he threw himself in front of me. “Abby, I said you couldn’t have that job. You’d suck at it.” I frowned without meaning to. He smiled in response, his eyes bright and wistful, “I have something better, and it suits you perfectly. Follow me.”

Taken aback, I blinked. What did he say? He had another job? Turning, I quickly followed him from the room. Mind reeling, I wondered what job he thought I could do, and wondered exactly how irritated he was with me. Irritated wasn’t the right word, but I half expected him to hand me a toilet brush. It wasn’t until Gus yelled after him that I thought he might have another real job.

Gus called out, running his fingers through his perfect hair, “Jack, we need to discuss this.”

“Later, Gus. It’s my call this time. You picked the last one!” Before Jack finished talking he was out the door. I practically ran to keep up. We walked around the exterior of the building. The wind blew gently, taking my long hair and whipping it into my eyes.


Jack turned back to me, “That’s the main building where everyone else works, but over here—this is where the magic happens,” he grinned at me. We’d reached a building that was attached on the side, concealed by sand dunes and tall grass. The long sleek lines of the upper section of the building blended into the sister structure next to it. When Jack threw open the doors, I walked through and entered his studio. My lips parted as I stared. It was huge. No, huge was an understatement. The room looked like an airplane hangar, minus the planes. Camera equipment was suspended from the ceiling, canvases bigger than my house lined the walls, and more canvas was on the floor, thickly coated in paint. Next to it was a board with photographs of a woman pinned to it. I stared harder, trying to see, but I was too far away.

Jack moved around me, careful not to touch me as he passed, asking, “Do you know what I’m famous for, Abby? Do you know why people pay millions for my work?” I shook my head. There were no finished pieces in sight, and I hadn’t seen any on the way in. Jack beamed, his beauty amplified in this setting. He explained, “It’s part innovation and part seduction. People crave something that is sensual, that reveals the inner workings of the human mind, and I give them that.” He grinned, “And the rest was luck. I was in the right place at the right time.”

Looking around I said, “I don’t understand. Are these the finished paintings?” Maybe he was a minimalist selling blank canvases on stretchers with pretty frames.

“No,” he breathed, staring at me, watching my reaction carefully. I stood in front of a large bay of windows; the light spilling through behind me. His eyes lingered a beat too long before moving to a curtain that spanned across the back wall. “This is one of my finished works.” Clasping the curtain in his hand, Jack slid it back. As he revealed more and more of the painting, I found myself walking toward it, eyes growing steadily wider, lips parting further and further.

It was evocative and alluring, sensual. It was a myriad of contradictions and promises—a moving story told in paint. There was an abstract quality to the work, but not so much that I couldn’t tell what it was. The painting was of a woman, her form captured in wide brush strokes of soft color. The curve of her figure, the expression on her face, and the long hair that drifted down her back made me stare at it. Sensual was the tame word to describe what he painted. It was raw emotion and full ecstasy, captured on canvas.

I couldn’t breathe. My face felt hot. I was certain my cheeks were burning. “Jack, this is...” I searched for the right word, but couldn’t find one. Stepping closer, I shook my head whispering, “carnal, raw, evocative, and... sexy as hell.” My eyes were locked on the painting, on this vision of beauty that he created. When did Jack learn to do this?

His hands were behind his back. Jack was smiling, watching me, standing next to me. “Cursing preacher?”

I shrugged, not looking away from the painting, “I never really had a tame tongue.”

“I remember,” he said softly. “That mouth of yours used to get you in trouble. Frequently.”

My eyes were wide when I turned and looked at him. The expression on his face only deepened my blush. He was genuinely amused, watching my eyes devour his painting like I couldn’t get enough. “Preacher girl, I think you like naughty art,” he laughed, a dimple showing as his smiled deepened.

Trying to defend myself, I said, “It’s not naughty. It’s...” but he didn’t let me finish.

“Then why are you beat-red?” He laughed, “It’s kind of cute. I haven’t had this much fun showing my work to anyone in a while. And I never thought I’d be showing it to a nun, and hear her say it’s not dirty.”

The corners of my mouth twisted up into a smile as I turned my blushing face in his direction, “It’s not dirty!” I protested. “It’s beautiful. Shockingly sensual. I just didn’t think you could paint something like that.”

“Why’s that?” he asked, the smile fading from his lips.

I shrugged, “I don’t know. I just... I’ve never seen anything like it before. There’s so much here. It has the timeless quality of an Old Master’s painting, but it has some of the qualities of Pollack’s work. It’s beautiful.” His lips were parted, watching me as I spoke; taking in my every word like it was air. Jack and I were a thing that never happened. We went through high school and he was one of my best friends, but there was more between us. Shaking the thoughts from my mind, I asked, “How did you make this?”

He arched an eyebrow at me, and turned away. “It’s um, not what you’d expect.”

I laughed, “What do you mean? You didn’t use a paint brush?” I was joking, but he shook his head.

“No, it’s not like that,” he stated, running his hand through his hair. Not looking at me, he stepped toward the painting, looking at it, recounting how it was made. “It’s more... unconventional, which is why I always have a female assistant at my studio. It maintains propriety, and that’s the difference between my art selling for millions and nothing.” Jack was staring at the painting, his jaw tightening like something was bothering him.

“What do you mean?” I asked, turning to look at him. His hands were shoved into his pockets, as he gazed at his sneakers briefly, looking at me from under his brow. He still looked like the boy I knew, not the millionaire man that he was supposed to be. Oddly, Jack seemed to hide his wealth. Getting closer to him, I could see he was wearing the same brands he used to wear. Nothing appeared to change.

His blue gaze pierced mine, “Reputation is the only thing keeping these paintings from being considered porn. Everything rides on my reputation. I don’t touch my models, I don’t screw the models, and I don’t use the same model more than once. And there’s always a schoolmarm type sitting here during the shoots. Those things protect my reputation, and keep these as art—sensual representations of the human form.” Jack walked next to the painting on the board, and picked up a pile of pictures. They must have been shot with his camera. I didn’t really get what he was saying until I looked at them.

Keeping my face still, I flipped through the pile. From one picture to the next, my heart raced harder. When I got to the end of the stack, I looked up at him, eyes wide, “You weren’t kidding. You don’t use a paint brush.”

He shook his head, taking the stack of pictures back. His fingers brushing mine without meaning to. A jolt passed between us. It was like it was before, years ago. I gasped, trying to ignore it. Jack did the same, “The models are the paint brush.” He pressed his lips together, glancing at me, as if my approval mattered. “Fine art has always had nudes at the center, and this, this is a similar take on that.”

My arms folded across my chest, trying to ease the swirling sensation in my stomach. I wasn’t sure if this was scary or fascinating. Probably a little of both. Glancing at him, I asked, “You paint them? And then what?”

Nodding, he walked down the length of the painting, his hands in his pockets. “I paint the model’s body, using the color palate I need, and then I instruct her, and tell her what to do.” He turned back to me, leaving some space between us, “It’s kind of like a life-size stamp. She lies down on the canvas and moves across it as directed. I shoot while the painting is being made,” he pointed to the large camera fixed to the ceiling, “and then go back and hand-paint the rest. And this is the end result.” He gestured to the finished painting next to him.

Heart racing, I pressed my lips together and asked, “What is it that you want me to do?”

His gaze locked with mine. My stomach stirred. His voice was cool, confident, “I want you to be the marm. No one will question anything with preacher-girl here. Especially if you think these are Kosher.” His eyes were twin lakes of endless blue. The spinning sensation abruptly stopped when he said marm. So that’s how he saw me.

I swallowed hard. I wanted the job, hell I needed the job, but I didn’t think I could take being around him every day. Before I realized what I was saying, I heard my voice speaking, “I don’t know.”

“Why not?” he asked. “It’d be perfect.” Jack pulled his hands from his pockets, drawing my eye to the spot where his dark jeans hugged his narrow hips. The tee shirt he wore made his eyes seem deeper, darker than possible. The soft smile on his lips was electric.

Crushing the feelings he was arousing, I turned away, staring at the art on the wall. I couldn’t believe that he still had this effect on me. It was the same way it was the last time I saw him. That moment came rushing back. It was summer, about ten years ago. We stood on the beach, the waves crashing onto the sand behind us. Jack had a horrible reputation during high school. If a girl looked his way, he had to have her. And he did. That didn’t jive with my idealistic tendencies. I wanted a soulmate, someone who only felt whole when he was with me. Jack wasn’t that person. I’d never met my soulmate, and still haven’t. But that night, I felt different. Something happened. We were inches apart and I felt my lips drifting toward his. My hands were tangled in his hair, his hands at his sides. Our eyes were locked, saying everything in silence. As our lips were about to meet, I stopped. Jack hadn’t moved, and I didn’t want to kiss him if he didn’t want it. A kiss meant something to me, and he knew it. I’d told him over and over again how a kiss should mean something, that sex wasn’t a sport. It was more than that.

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